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How to get the best out of salespeople


Imagine how well your sales team could do if you knew what they were capable of. Stephanie Christopher, National Director of psychometrics consulting firm SHL, looks at how organisations can get the best out of their sales teams in an uncertain market.

While sales managers may be left scratching their heads trying to figure out what they could have done differently in 2009, simply understanding the shape of their sales team will make all the difference in the year ahead.

This means objectively assessing staff potential beyond sales targets, identifying skills gaps and targeting training to these areas — and not relying on gut instinct.

Revenue tells you what they are not achieving, not what they are capable of. To avoid underestimating a salesperson’s ability on the basis of targets, employers should take time to measure and review talent using objective tools and assessments. This will ensure sales teams have solid foundations and skills to complete the sales cycle.

For example, a consultant may have a natural flair for cold-calling a prospective customer; however they may not have the ability to manage and grow that relationship or close the sale. A sales model can identify the training they require to develop these skills.

SHL carried out extensive international research with over 1,500 individuals across a range of industries and observed a significant shift in what drives sales success. It revealed that, in addition to industry knowledge and strong sales skills, today’s successful sales people must have the ability to work under strict regulations, embrace new technology and work closely with clients to deliver the solutions needed.

The research also found today’s sales people need to be highly adaptable and able to rapidly embrace change in addition to possessing traditional sales success factors, such as confidence and competitiveness.

As a result of this research, SHL has developed a new tool to assist companies in identifying an individual’s potential to succeed in the modern sales environment. The SHL Sales Report is based on SHL’s Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ) and Motivational Questionnaire (MQ). It assesses an individual’s potential strengths and developmental needs in a sales context, as well as providing an insight into potential job fit and personal motivation.

Managers need to bear in mind that it’s not about finding your super salesman or woman. It’s about building the best sales team using the strengths and potential within your organisation.

Identifying and complementing strengths and weaknesses will ensure sales teams have the capability to complete the sales cycle.

For instance, where one employee may be a natural at developing a strong game plan, they may need to develop their presentation skills.

This would be an opportunity to have a consultant with strong presenting skills and experience on the same team. This person can not only present the game plan prepared by their colleague confidently and successfully, but could potentially mentor their colleague in presentation skills.

The ability to be resilient will be important this year. Resilient sales consultants persevere in the toughest situations, are constantly on the lookout for new opportunities and do not become discouraged when the going gets tough.

Adaptability will also be key in this market and consultants will need to be able to adapt with their customers, familiarise themselves with their way of operating and change their approach to suit those needs.

Measuring these traits will show teams where their talent lies and find the gaps to build on performance.

Tapping into what motivates an individual to perform (whether it be public recognition or honing in on their competitive nature) is also vital. A lack of motivation can often explain why a team member might not naturally succeed in the way you would expect them to.

As business conditions take a turn for the better and confidence levels rise, organisations should take time to assess their current sales talent, focus training and development to unlock potential and maximise sales effectiveness into 2010.

Sales foundations, motivation and sales competencies vital to sales success:

Sales foundation — The personality and behavioural factors important to sales effectiveness:

  • sales confidence
  • sales drive
  • sales resilience
  • adaptability
  • listening
  • embracing change

Sales motivation — Identifying the motivators for each individual will help determine what is likely to drive sales performance:

  • money (and material rewards)
  • competition
  • achievement
  • pace
  • social contact
  • recognition
  • growth
  • autonomy

Sales cycle — Eight individual behavioural factors in the sales process:

  • developing a game plan
  • making contact
  • building desire
  • creating options
  • presenting
  • closing the sale
  • satisfying the customer
  • managing and growing

Stephanie Christopher is the National Director of psychometrics consulting firm SHL.